People who hoped, or in some cases feared, that Pope Benedict would take a tough line when speaking to Catholic educators got both more and less than they expected--with the emphasis on "more." References to Pope John Paul II's much-debated 1990 document on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, were noticeably absent from the text. Yet in his Thursday evening address to college and university presidents and diocesan education officials, the Pope:
*Endorsed "the great value of academic freedom" on the Catholic campus, but declared that using academic freedom to justify "positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the Church" would be in conflict with the mission of a Catholic school.
*Insisted that "public witness to the way of Christ," as found in the gospel and upheld by the Magisterium, should shape "all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom."
Pope Benedict rejected the idea that the Catholic identity of Catholic schools is a matter simply of the religious composition of the faculty or can be "equated simply with orthodoxy of course content." Clearly hoping to raise this ongoing debate to a new, higher plane, he said, "It [Catholic identity] demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates with the ecclesial life of faith."
Beyond that, Benedict laid out a complex pattern of interlocking principles that should keep the Catholic academic and educational communities happily occupied for months. It's a rich and stimulating paper, easily up to the standards of the Professor-Pope. Whether his interlocutors in the American Catholic education community are similarly up to the multiple challenges it presents is something only time will tell.
-- Russell Shaw